Coping with big changes in Google traffic

For the most part, Google rankings and traffic are fairly consistent. Google likes sites with good quality content, good quality links that were obtained in a natural (or mostly natural) way, and that have good engagement/performance metrics (mobile friendly, low bounce rates, etc.). If your site has all of these things, you get traffic from Google, and it tends to grow in proportion to your content.

However, the good-content-good-links-good-engagement formula doesn’t always work. Sometimes, Google adjusts the way it evaluates a link or a piece of content or a competing site, and you lose rankings. In a worst case scenario, the rankings loss can be dramatic.

Google traffic drop surprise
While Google traffic doesn’t usually fall off a cliff like this without cause (i.e. without you doing something to deserve it), it CAN start to drop off without warning. Image via Linkbuildr.

While these dramatic changes are often a result of bad marketing practices (more on that below), they can sometimes be nothing more than bad luck. Here’s what you can do to avoid the worst effects.

First, Here’s Why Dramatic Organic Search Changes Usually Occur

If your site sees organic traffic plunge, the most likely explanations are either:

  1. There’s a crawling/indexing error or screw-up
  2. You (or someone on your marketing team) did something to anger Google

If it’s #1, the good news is that recovery happens quickly. You’ll be back to where you were in a few weeks or months. You just have to figure out what went wrong. Some places to check:

  • Look for noindex and/or nofollow instructions where they don’t belong
  • Look for 404 errors and/or bad 301 redirects
  • Look for issues in robots.txt
  • Look for website performance issues resulting in a lot of server errors and/or long load times
  • Look for malware infections that make your site toxic to consumers

If you’re trying to diagnose a problem, the Google and Bing Search Consoles are your friend. Both can give you insights into problems, as can a crawling tool like Screaming Frog.

If it’s #2, the recovery isn’t so easy. First, you have to figure out why you’ve angered Google.

  • There could be a notification about a manual action in the search console, but usually Google doesn’t send you these right away. They like to let you suffer for a while first.
  • You may have some very obvious paid links to your site, or your site may have participated in some sort of link/manipulation scheme (guest blog networks, link sharing schemes).
  • You may have too many suspicious links pointing to your site.

If you’ve eliminated possibility #1, then it’s time to do a link audit. Several SEO tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, etc. have link auditing toolsets, but our advice is to bring in a consultant. Most link auditing tools have limitations that you don’t know about without some experience, and in the wrong hands they can make things worse.

Next, Here Are Some Strategies For Avoiding Google Rankings Crash Despair

1. Work With Ethical Marketing People

Paid links, link schemes, and other manipulative tactics inevitably lead to Google penalties. Ask everyone you work with if they ever pay for links. Most should explain that while they never buy links purely for SEO benefits, they often recommend paid links in the form of event or group sponsorships, association memberships, and donations. These are the “good” kinds of paid links that all businesses do.

You should also ask everyone you work with what their best link tactics are, and be suspicious of anyone who says “we’ve got a system” or “I can’t tell you.” The only acceptable answer to the “How do you build great links?” question is “Create and promote great content.”

2. Don’t Put All Your Eggs In The Google-Organic-Search-Traffic Basket

If you’re currently ranked #1 for the best keyword in your niche, you’re probably enjoying some pretty excellent results. Good for you.

But we’re here to tell you that you can’t ride that wave forever. Now is the time to develop other sources of traffic. Pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, video production, and social media marketing can all generate significant revenue. If you spread your marketing and advertising budget around, you’re less likely to be harmed when a sudden ranking shift hits.

3. Cultivate Your Existing Customer Base

Your best customers are the people who have already spent money with you. Are you communicating with these existing customers regularly? Are you making sure to connect with these people on Facebook and Instagram? Are you marketing to them via email? If not, you should be.

4. Test Display/Audience Advertising

In the last few years, Google, Facebook/Instagram, and others have made strides in creating quality audiences that can be targeted with display advertising. These types of ads can be great for accessory retailers who are looking to build awareness, but it can also be effective for replacement part retailers who are looking to build a brand.

Additionally, just about every vehicle in the world has a dedicated owner forum, and some of these owner forums offer very reasonably priced advertising. Learn more about forum and fan page marketing here.

While you’re at it, you can also test advertising in newsletters and on dedicated parts search engines. (We write more about digital advertising in this article.)

5. Don’t Forget About eBay And Amazon

eBay and Amazon have millions of dedicated users, and for a fee, they’ll let you list your products. With time and experimentation, you can find a winning formula on these sites.

6. Consider Affiliate Marketing

We wrote a post that breaks down the pros and cons of affiliate marketing here. If you’ve done everything listed in this post so far, affiliate marketing is a sophisticated marketing practice that is worth a look. 

7. Experiment

Test new ad networks. Sponsor an automotive blog or build or event. Try co-marketing with another automotive ecommerce company.

Last Thought

If you can build an online business that can thrive without Google organic rankings, whatever organic traffic Google sends will be gravy.